CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – It couldn’t have started worse, with Payton Thorne throwing an interception into the wind on the first play of the game.
It couldn’t have turned out better, as the Michigan State football defense set up another goal line position. And for much of Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, things went the Spartans way against No. 13 Illinois.
Particularly with a teeming defense that stifled the Illini, getting critical fourth saves and turnovers while the MSU offense found a late running game and did just enough for a 23-15 win.
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Thorne threw touchdowns to Tre Mosley and Jayden Reed and went 19 of 29 for 182 passing yards. Jarek Broussard added an 11-yard touchdown run, while Jalen Berger rushed for 81 yards on 15 carries and added three catches for 29 yards for the Spartans (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten).
The Illinois defense had allowed just six touchdowns all season heading into Saturday’s game.
MSU won with just 294 yards on offense and despite 441 yards on defense. But that’s not saying the job the defense of Mel Tucker and Scottie Hazelton did, holding Illinois (7-2, 4-2) 1-for-6 on fourth down of the game, including back-to-back sacks with a one. just over 3 minutes to play to seal the victory.
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MSU hosts Rutgers next Saturday at Spartan Stadium, with time and TV network to be determined by Sunday.
The Spartans have bolstered their chances of a bowling game, now needing two wins in the last three games to qualify for the playoffs.
Bad start, good recovery
Thorne’s first pass on the game opener to tight end Daniel Barker hung up in the strong winds that lingered all day. Illini cornerback Sydney Brown jumped in with Barker and made the interception at the MSU 41-yard line.
Chase Brown got off to a good start, with 24 yards on two carries to bring Illinois into the red zone. But MSU stuffed him and quarterback Tommy DeVito twice from the 3, then Brown got a yard on third down. DeVito’s quick throw to receiver Isaiah Williams missed on fourth down and the Spartans dodged a bullet.
However, their offense went to three and after the punt, DeVito connected for a 60-yard touchdown to Williams, who caught the short crossing road past MSU linebacker Cal Haladay and blasted his way through the MSU defense.
The Spartans responded with a 6:27 drive, capped off by a 21-yard field goal from Ben Patton. Then early in the second quarter on their next drive, Thorne hit Reed for a deep ball 31 yards into the wind to set up a 2-yard touchdown catch from Tre Mosley to cap the drive. Patton missed the extra point and MSU held on to a 9-7 lead during the break, the Spartans’ first halftime lead since their 52-0 win over Akron on September 10.
Take over, hold on
MSU took a break when an Illini punt hit a backhand, and the Spartans took over at the Illinois 29-yard line. Broussard scored to give MSU a 16-7 lead with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
The defense then stopped the Illini near midfield on fourth-and-first, and the offense needed just three plays for Thorne to hit Reed for a 17-yard score that extended the lead Spartans at 23-7.
Illinois responded early in the fourth quarter to a jet flip pass from DeVito to Williams for 7 yards, and the two-point pass pulled the Illini up 23-15 with 14:27 left.
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The Illini had one last chance after Patton missed a 31-yard field goal attempt with 1:06 left, but the Spartans were able to hang on and get the ball out on the final play as time ticked down. was running out with Illinois running out of time out.
MSU was without eight defensive players who are suspended indefinitely for their role in a postgame fight with No. 4 Michigan last week: three starters in linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Windmon, defensive end Zion Young and defensive back Angelo Grose; two key replacements in defensive end Brandon Wright and defensive back Justin White; and two special teams contributors in linebacker/defensive end Itayvion “Tank” Brown and cornerback Malcom Jones. Defensive ends Jeff Pietrowski and Khris Bogle were also injured, as was defensive end Michael Fletcher.
Brown finished with 136 rushing yards on 33 carries, the sixth straight to eclipse 100 yards on the Spartans.
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